India told Italy marines do not face death sentence: Minister

ROME (AFP) - Italy is sending two marines to India to stand trial for murder after assurances they would not face capital punishment, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said in an interview on Friday, March 22.

"It is our view that there are no longer the concerns that we had before," Mr Terzi told La Repubblica daily, a day after the government said they were being sent back in a surprise move.

"The agreement with India is that the case does not include any possibility of the maximum punishment being applied," Mr Terzi said.

He also said they would be assured "conditions for daily life in the country", without elaborating.

The decision "was based on mutual respect between our two countries, as the United Nations has repeatedly called for," the minister said.

He conceded however that there had been "different sensibilities between ministers" at the cabinet meeting on Thursday, March 21, that took the decision.

Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were granted special leave last month by an Indian court to return to Italy to vote in elections but had skipped bail with the government's support.

But the cabinet on Thursday said in a stunning turnaround that it now planned to respect the court-mandated leave and they would return.

The two are accused of having shot dead two Indian fishermen they mistook for pirates off the Indian port of Kochi last year. They were serving as security guards on an Italian oil tanker.

Italy insists the marines should be prosecuted in their home country because the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters.

India says the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.

After Italy said the marines would not return, Indian authorities forbade Italy's ambassador to New Delhi, Mr Daniele Mancini, from leaving the country, saying he had broken a written promise.

Relations between the two countries have also been soured by corruption allegations surrounding a US$748 million (S$935 million) deal for the purchase of 12 Italian helicopters, which the Indian government is now threatening to scrap.

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